The other night I was feeling a little beaten down, so after my shower I slathered my face in a dead sea mud mask. It’s a small act of self care, but that combined with a cup of hot tea can sure feel like going to the spa for pennies on the (hundred) dollar. By then it was about 9:30 and the boys were asleep so I sat down at the kitchen table to do some writing in the silence that’s become really rare in our house. Before my mind will wander freely in that way, though, it has the annoying habit of first scanning the periphery for any dangling tasks. That night, on the brain-menu was (1) culling a sick chicken and (2) planting a eucalyptus tree given to us by E’s mom.
We’d separated the narcoleptic chicken from the rest of the flock a few days prior, on account of her green poo and the fact that sleeping (or otherwise nonmoving) chickens become speed bumps when moving the chicken pens and that’s not fun for anybody. We separated her in hopes that VIP access to food and water and peace might revive her, with no such luck. When she started falling asleep in the waterer and flies set in we concluded her situation was probably terminal. With our healthy critter population around here, a hole to bury said dead chicken seemed in order. And thinking of the hole led me to thinking about the coincidence that completing task #2 would also require a hole. And thinking of planting a tree led me to thinking that a decomposing chicken carcass might offer some pretty awesome nutrition for a tree being transplanted at such an inappropriate time of year, and that this marriage of tasks would require the digging of only one hole. And then I got to thinking how digging a hole deep enough to bury a chicken and plant a tree at 9:30 at night through dry sod didn’t sound very fun. But then I remembered the scar left in the earth by the epic pile of debris I cleared a few weeks back. It sat there like the tender skin that’s left under a blister when you finally pull the skin, looking at me every time I’d go down to take care of the chickens. There’s no vegetation but it’s alive with bugs; the dirt was soft, still moist but becoming more callused with each passing day.
And before I could stop myself, I popped the question to E if he wanted to help me with my mission. I told him I’d do the digging if he wielded the hatchet, and afterward we both felt like we got the best side of that arrangement. I set out to digging a very deep hole in the moonlight down there while the potted tree looked on. “Deeper” it would whisper every time I looked over my shoulder at it. E came down with the chicken and block of wood a bit later, and in what felt like just a few minutes the deed was done and E and I stood across from one another looking at the eucalyptus that we just planted together. It’s a strange universal relationship between the life of that tree and the death of that bird, the ugliness of the pile that was there and the beauty of the tree that will restore that place. I like thinking that for the next 30 years, that spot gets a shot at being awesome and enjoyable instead of just dumped on. One could make any number of allusions to Phoenix here, but I’m not feeling so clever.
I went in to wash my hands and realized I had my mud mask on that entire time and E never even gave me a hard time about it. He’s a good man, and probably didn’t want to make me feel self-conscious. He also probably realized that if he said something I would have stopped digging to go in and rinse my face and he would have been left holding the shovel. He’s good and smart. So I rinsed that off, and even though it didn’t leave me more beautiful I felt rejuvenated in a new and strange way. Of course, by then I was just too tired to write so I joined in the silence with the sleeping boys.